Our driver pulled the SUV onto the dusty shoulder of the road and a lama slid into the passenger’s seat. R, who was in front, climbed out and joined the four of us already crammed into the backseat. The lama nodded hello and we were off again, cruising down the long stretch of recently-laid asphalt that circles Lugu Lake in northern Yunnan Province.
We were scouting locations for a documentary about the region’s ethnic Mosuo people—a cinematic snapshot capturing a moment in time, in that place. I was the Observer (and sometimes Helper) looking to improve my writing and photography skills as we scoured the region for the Story that would be the documentary.
Our driver Zhashi was Mosuo and lived just across the border, in the part of the Lugu Lake Scenic District that falls within Sichuan Province. He was a fine driver and helpful translator; only later did we learn he had just gotten his license the week before we hired him.
I didn’t know whether picking up the lama had any karmic consequences, but Zhashi spent a few years of his youth as a monk in the temple—a common practice amongst families with more than one son (ethnic minorities aren’t required to follow the One Child Policy)—and didn’t hesitate to pull over for the lama.
They made quiet small talk as we bumped and rolled along. Seated behind Zhashi, I shifted what little I could and craned my neck to get a peek of the lama. I was curious, and I wanted a picture, but I also wanted to be unobtrusive.
R watched me fumble and struggle to figure out how to adjust my camera for backlighting and the shadowy car interior. I was beginning to sweat and the moment, I felt sure, was slipping away.
Without a word, he took the camera out of my hands, made a couple adjustments, and snapped a shot. It doesn’t have to be perfect, R said handing it back to me, just get it as good as you can and take the photo. You can fix it in post-processing.
Had I waited for the perfect circumstances, I realized, that seemingly perfect moment would have come and gone. In photography as in life, I had to accept imperfection, or I would miss my chance.
March 2013